A gift at war (for Veterans Day)
Stereophile|November 2020
A gift at war (for Veterans Day)
In March 2003, as news networks broadcast images of American tanks racing north toward Baghdad, my infantry platoon dug shallow foxholes in south-ern Iraq. We were part of a defensive perimeter guarding FARP Exxon, a helicopter refueling point for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

The FARP was a small, boundaryless airfield marked not by a runway or buildings but by a couple of scattered antennas and several large fuel blivets. At our dug-in perimeter, the desert spread bare before us in every direction—except in the center of my sector of view. There, beyond a depression in the foreground, were a few makeshift structures on a ridge two klicks north. Every few hours, upon refuel, we buried our faces to escape the Blackhawks’ rotor wash; the tents’ fabric walls whipped as if weathering a storm.

Our first morning at the FARP, my team leader, Brian, and I noticed that the Bedouins sometimes came out to stare and point in our direction. America in their backyard. Did they know the war had begun? Were they the enemy?

Soon, a slow-moving dust cloud drifted toward us, then hooked right. We couldn’t see the road from our position, but as the dust settled, an empty cattle truck emerged. Its diesel engine thrummed a clacking beat, then stood still for a few moments, idling in front of the tents. Our mortar section was on standby; I had a pre-plotted 10-digit grid and a microphone in hand, ready to call it in. A few minutes later, the truck—its bed now filled with a dozen ride-share commuters—disappeared into a new cloud of dust and diesel smoke.


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November 2020